Members Discuss Working with Anxiety on the RGD's Slack Workspace

Image: Campaign designed by Katie Maasik, RGD Student Awards 2014

In a recent conversation in the RGD's Slack Community #ask_a_question channel, Members discussed how living with anxiety is not, and should not, be a factor in maintaining and growing one's career.  


The RGD's Slack Workspace is host to ongoing dialogue and resource-sharing amongst RGD Members. Learn more about Membership options
Valerie Giffin RGD, Brand & Production Designer, TAG Creative Strategy: Hey everyone! I heard a pretty bad take from a colleague recently, saying that people with anxiety, professionally diagnosed or otherwise, are incapable of maintaining a career as an art or creative director. I was wondering what the RGD community's perspective regarding this was. 
Anonymous: As someone who has worked successfully in design for 8 years with c-PTSD (initially diagnosed as anxiety) and Autism, I think your colleague's take is not only incorrect, but downright ableist. In my opinion, there's room for everyone in the industry, no matter where you come from, how you look or how your brain works. Sometimes you'll need accommodations to do your best work, but that's a case of different, not difficult. 
Kari Silver RGD, Graphic Designer, University of Toronto: I have an anxious brain (although not diagnosed), and was an art director and designer for 12+ years. Can definitely say it's not an issue.
Nathalie McFadden RGD, Independent Graphic/Web Designer & Photographer: I whole-heartedly agree with the nay-sayers here. Who’s to say that some of these great directors didn’t have struggles of their own? No one has to share their personal demons. On that note, only you decide how far you can push yourself.
Karl Chen, Freelance Senior Designer & Creative Director: Absolutely bull. While it is more challenging for someone with anxiety to be in a leadership role, I have seen many creative directors get over that through perseverance, determination and just simple experience dealing with anxiety in their own personal ways. Also, as a purely personal opinion, i think us creatives probably all have some level of anxiety 
Kyle Schruder RGD, Associate Creative Director, Creative Currency: I have anxiety and I'd have anxiety in any career. Haha. Bad take.
Kari: I'd be curious to know why they think so. Because like Kyle said, if you have anxiety then it's the same for any kind of job?
Valerie: They're the kind of old-world ableist that sees mental health conditions and neurodivergences as excuses that either don't exist or are things that the people with the conditions just "don't want to get over badly enough." In this circumstance, they saw anxiety, especially social anxiety, as an excuse for someone to not talk to clients or suppliers or stakeholders and general anxiety as an unwillingness to make decisions due to judgement, as if they're seeing anxiety as a complete refusal towards job-related responsibilities.
Anonymous: The thing that's interesting is that anxiety is an evolutionary trait that used to keep us safe from things like natural disasters and being eaten by predators. If we didn't have anxious feelings, we wouldn't have made it as far as we have as a species. Having said that, there's also the disordered anxiety that comes from brain chemicals and fight/flight responses misfiring. It's not the best solution for everyone, but even though I've been in therapy for years, one of the biggest shifts in my anxious symptoms came last year when I found a medication that worked for me. Turns out if you can't make your own serotonin, store-bought is fine. 
Craig Medwyduk RGD, Storytelling & Content Services Director, Métis Nation-Saskatchewan: That statement is crap. After 30 years of being a designer, scared, unconfident and still rocking... I found leaning into your anxiety is way more fun... and more creative.
Sharing a post from Ben Hagon RGD, President, INTENT (via LinkedIn):
A hard post to write, but long overdue. Many of us struggle with our mental health, and I certainly am no different. I am sharing my journey on this platform to help inspire others to hopefully seek the help and support they deserve.
Ever since I was a child, I was told I was a worrier, that I was a day dreamer, that I had a long but explosive fuse, that I was up and down. I always felt as a child that I was somehow different. While I had great friends who were so wonderful, I always felt on the outside.
As I got older, I turned to self medicating ways, using alcohol to quieten my never quiet mind. Using anything I could to help me sleep.
I've struggled for years, keeping it mostly quiet and hidden. I've done all the things. Meditating. Journaling. Hard exercise. Therapy. Blood tests. All of it.
A year ago, at the age of 43, I decided I couldn't go on. And while I'd made progress with the "work" above, it just was never enough.
A long process led me to a diagnosis of general anxiety disorder, depression and ADHD.
I committed to a similarly long process to find the medication and tools I need to feel better, and commit to that. I've tried four different psychiatric medications in that time.
2 months ago tomorrow (March 22, 2023), I started taking Escitalopram and put down the alcohol (maybe forever). The effects were noticeable almost immediately and 8 weeks in, I feel like the person I always wanted to be. Present. Calm. Thoughtful. Clear headed, sleep like a baby. To me, it's a miracle and it might have saved my life as I know it today.
Now why the public disclosure? This is not really my style and this is very uncomfortable for me. In fact, it has taken a year to execute something I've wanted to do for a long time.
LinkedIn is a professional platform and outside of my family, my career is my greatest source of pride. I've worked hard to where I've gotten to and perhaps from the outside looking in, my life looks pretty successful. I am here to tell you, it was a mirage. And, if you are struggling, I am here struggling right alongside you. You do NOT need to suffer alone. There is help. F*&k the stigma around antidepressants. F*&k the stigma around mental health. And F*&k anyone who makes you feel unworthy because you are STRONG enough to admit you need some professional support to live your life on your terms.
I am here with you. You are not alone. You deserve to be well.
Thank you for reading.

ReadTools for Managing Health and Well-being in the Creative Industry by Faron Dawe RGD


Image credit: Katie Maasik, 2014 So(cial) Good Awards Winner